Couture Diplomacy: Reading Madeleine Albright's Pins
The same day that we went to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, we also took in an exhibit about Madeleine Albright and the pins that she wore for state functions. Madeleine Albright was the first female Secretary of State and was sworn in by then President Bill Clinton in 1997. She served in this capacity until 2001. Prior to becoming Secretary of State, she had been the US Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 - 1997. Needless to say, she is an incredibly important female figure.
At the time of her nomination, there were many people who criticized the choice stating that foreign leaders would not accept a woman as a representative of the United States. While touring the exhibit, there was a video where Madeleine Albright was interviewed regarding these criticisms and she rebutted that she actually more difficulty with men in the US Congress than she ever had in dealing with foreign powers.
Her signature accessory that she wears with every outfit is a pin. Throughout her years as Secretary of State, she noticed that more and more people would pay attention to the pins and used this to set the tone for meetings. For example, she would wear flowers when the topics for the day were light hearted. When they were not, she would wear eagles or serpents.
When visiting countries around the world, she matched the pins she was wearing to the location. For example, in the picture, she wore a cluster of palm trees when visiting Arab nations or the lacquer pin with a snowy scene in Russia. One particularly poignant pin in this collection is of the Berlin wall which she wore on visits to Europe.
A particularly famous pin is the serpent pin. Early on in her tenure, Saddam Hussein's poet-in-residence had called her an unparalleled serpent, among other things. In her next dealing regarding Iran, she wore and enormous serpent pin. She also ensured that in all future discussions regarding Iran, she continued to wear serpent pins.
Another famous pin was the bedazzled American flag she wore to greet Kim Jong-Il. In the exhibit, she stated that this was because she wanted his first impression of her to be as a representative of the United States and the power that they held in the free world. Over the years, she collected several other American flag pins but not were quite as large as the one she wore for her first meeting with the North Korean dictator.
Many of her pins were attached to attitudes. For example, she wore turtles to demonstrate her intent to forge steadily ahead. The tortoise in Aesop's fable is the physical embodiment of strength and determination while he overcomes the hare. She felt this was an characteristic desired in a diplomat ad used the turtle to demonstrate her relentless focus on the desired goal and her approach of patient determination.
Due to her penchant for pins, she often received them as gifts from foreign powers. The ones on the left include a gift of a lions head from Great Britain. On the right is a gift from Jacques Chirac, President of France at the time.
Madeleine Albright's pins were her first introduction to many people. During her years as Secretary of State, people would learn to "read her pins". Her effective use of her pins allowed her to convey how a meeting was going to go to a person with whom she had not even had a conversation yet. They are the perfect accessory for an incredibly strong woman.